What’s in a data centre tour?

Posted on in

More than a walk around the halls, that's for sure!

If your prospective data centre provider offers you a tour – we’d encourage you to take it. While virtual tours, photographs and specification sheets have their place, nothing beats a facility visit.

Really get under the skin of your potential colocation provider

Many argue (and we would agree) that a data centre is a business-critical asset for its tenants. A data centre tour gives you the chance to observe, probe and question each element of the site. Comprehensive due diligence – and the reassurance this brings – is possible only when you can see for yourself the measures and processes that have been put in place to ensure the integrity of core factors such as security, resilience and connectivity.

Maybe the question of “What’s in a data centre tour?” should really be considered alongside the answer you need to give after your visit: “Am I 100% happy to trust my business to this provider?”

Let’s take a closer look at the key factors that we consider important for you to examine as part of your on-site data centre evaluations.


Physical security measures – those which manage access to the facility and movement around it – should be apparent from the moment you arrive at the data centre. Features to look out for are anti-climb perimeter fences, electronic locks, turnstiles, virtual tripwires and mantraps. Look for a layered approach that delivers multi-factor authentication, and ensures the site continues to be secure even if one or more of the layers are breached.

How is your access to the facility managed? Some facilities, for example, will employ front-of-house security personnel. Consider, though, that such arrangements might actually be a security vulnerability, bringing heightened risk of human error and susceptibility to social engineering. A robust alternative would be a remote control room with 24-hour CCTV monitoring.

If you or your customers are required to manage sensitive or regulated data, what options are available to help with your compliance obligations? Dedicated, caged areas for example, ensure that even the facility’s staff are kept at arm’s length from your servers and infrastructure.

Data centres worth considering will also hold accreditations related to security; the best-known international benchmark for information security management is ISO27001 – and is certainly one that you should enquire about. Accreditations outside of this will also reveal a lot about the organisation’s approach to management and compliance in general, indicative as they are of how much they are prepared to invest to run their operations with due care and attention.

You may also want to look for certifications like the NSI Gold scheme, for example, or the presence of SIA-approved personnel.

Resilience and availability

Specifically, the measures in place to keep the data centre running with power – and within environmental parameters (cooling). During your tour, ask about the diversity of power distribution. As you may expect, terms such as “N+1 UPS redundancy” will become part of the conversation – be sure to understand the meaning behind such configurations. A good standard of power resilience to look for would be a diversely fed dual parallel pair. Such a configuration might typically feature separate pairs of N+N UPS systems – with each pair fed by independent power strings – with one feed to your rack from each pair. This “2(N+N)” arrangement gives you fully protected power to your equipment across a range of catastrophic power failure scenarios.

You might also ask about where power for the data centre comes from. The answer will likely be in one of two ways: through a spur or a ring. A ring usually means you are part of the main regional grid supply, whereas a spur branches off from the ring. Ring-fed supplies offer greater redundancy than a spur because mains power can travel to your site infrastructure from two independent substations – you can lose the supply on one side, but remain unaffected due to supply from the other side of the ring. This is why critical infrastructure sites are built on rings.

Mains or data centre infrastructure power failures happen – and during an outage, your uptime will depend on your colocation provider’s UPS units and generator sets. Find out how much time is available on their batteries and fuel supply to keep your business up and running. Keep in mind that some outages last longer than a few hours: what contingency plans does the operator have in those circumstances, and does it meet your business continuity requirements?

Turning to cooling within the data centre halls, look for evidence that hot or cold aisle containment systems and high capacity units with a minimum of N+1 redundancy are in place. Establish as well, the quality of the air conditioning units themselves: are they high-capacity units with built-in redundancy via failover components and pipework? Check as well on the power supply to this critical infrastructure – ideally it will benefit from a facility that can deliver a true dual power supply.


Talk of resilience and diversity is equally important when considering the other lifeblood of your operation within a data centre: connectivity to the outside world. If you find a carrier neutral data centre with a range of network providers and connectivity options on site, you’ll benefit from lower latency and higher performance services across a wider geographical area. You’ll also have the advantage of greater resilience as a result of the diversity of connections to and from the facility.

What’s more, establishing and maintaining a point-of-presence in a data centre is a big investment for a network provider. If their due diligence has deemed a facility worthy of that investment, it’s a good sign your buy-in is sound, too.


Beyond the wider considerations of location, a data centre tour is the ideal opportunity for a dry run of one of those times (we all have them) when a late night visit is required to replace an item of failed hardware. What transport options are available? How long does it take you to get there? What process would you need to follow to gain access? Is on-site parking adequate (consider that you may be transporting bulky items of equipment, and a trek from the nearest public transport hub might not be ideal).

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)

When measuring up any provider’s green credentials, look for the detail beyond the eco messaging. Although renewables are a good indicator that some consideration has been made, ask the provider what they’re doing to control energy use “behind the meter” – this is where some real efficiency inroads can be made. Metering power usage (renewable or not) allows data centres to make data driven decisions about which areas of their facility are running inefficiently, and shows they’re serious about reducing their carbon footprint. Can they show you evidence of innovative approaches such as battery storage technology to further help manage power consumption intelligently?

Part of your conversation should also be to ask about their Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) – a measurement of power effectiveness calculated by dividing the total power consumption of the data centre by the amount used specifically by IT equipment within the facility. A lower PUE is regarded as preferable, with 1.0 being considered the best.


What you don’t get from a virtual tour, is one-to-one, in-person experience of the people that run the data centre. Since they’re likely at some point to be an extension of your own team – whether as a pair of steady remote hands during an outage, or as experts you can rely on when planning infrastructure and future developments in your deployment – what could be more important than meeting and measuring the people that you will be trusting to support your business?

How easy was it to arrange the tour? How was your experience of the people that took you around the facility? Could they answer your questions? Did they get back to you with specific information that you requested? Fundamentally, are they your kind of people – do they share your way of working?

Even if you’re looking for a more hands-off relationship with your provider, there’s value in understanding the quality and accessibility of their support up front. And if your requirements around security and availability demand a level of direct access to staff and management within the data centre environment, check how easily this can be provided. And whether or not you’re looking for a sector-specific service like PCI-compliant colocation, there are obvious benefits to working with a data centre operator that understands the common data centre needs in your industry – both from a service-level and commercial standpoint – and how they can help you meet them.

Want to find out more?

If you’d like to visit one of our data centre locations in the south east or Manchester, we’d welcome the chance to show you around our facilities. You can book a personalised tour, or get in touch with one of our team to cover off any questions you might have.